Rojak: Stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group
by Alice Clark-Platts & Others
Having recently arrived in Singapore and looking to read some of the best local writing, I was rewarded when I read this gem of a short story anthology. The Malay word for “mixture,” Rojak is an apt title for this collection of short, easy-to-read stories that take the reader around the world and leaves them with exotic tastes to savor and provoking thoughts to ponder. It is indeed the “perfect mix of short stories for the adventurous and the armchair traveler” with tales from Singapore to Mexico, England, South Africa, and elsewhere. There’s something for everyone in this book.
The anthology is well written and edited. Some stories are concise with clear endings while others end leaving the reader craving more. All pack a strong punch, filled with emotion and depth in mere pages. Many could serve as the basis of full-length novels. Although written by 19 authors with diverse writing styles and interests, the book features a coherent narrative and themes guided by the deft hand of Singapore Writers’ Group founder Alice Clark-Platts, who brought an eclectic “mixture” of members together to write this anthology.
I’m looking forward to reading more short stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group and follow-on works by the book’s contributors. Read this book for a taste of what this talented group has to offer, and if you are in Singapore, get to know the SWG. It has a bright future on the Singapore literary scene.
I give Rojak five (5) stars and recommend it to anyone interested in Singapore, travel stories, or well-written short stories.
Rojak: Stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group is now available at:
Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner
“Enemies” is a colorful tale of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from its humble beginnings in 1908 fighting organized crime to its recent involvement in the War on Terror. Based on a wealth of research, declassified documents and interviews, the book devotes many of its pages to the larger-than-life character of its first director, J. Edgar Hoover, who for half a century personified the FBI and left an indelible stamp on the agency housed in the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.
I was compelled to read this book after watching a biopic on Hoover in order to get a fuller picture of the legendary man. The book offers an in-depth, no-holds-barred look at the Bureau and its leadership from Hoover to its most recent director, James B. Comey. Effusive in his praise and sharp in his criticism, the author paints a picture of a government agency torn between balancing its mission to provide security and fight criminal and terrorist activity and the need to protect civil liberties so that “Americans could be both safe and free.” Its first century has been one of successes, failures, and a constant struggle to find or upset this balance. The author draws from a wealth of documentary evidence to portray a Bureau that in many ways operates like a tragicomedy as it tries to make sense of and respond to ever-changing threats, often in heavy-handed and arguably unconstitutional ways. Weiner does an apt job of bringing the FBI to life.
Although the author makes no attempt to tell an impartial story, his interpretation of history makes it all the more interesting. Putting the FBI through the lens of constitutionality and civil rights, he chides the Bureau for its many deficiencies but commends it where it has taken strides to improve, such as discontinuing (at least publicly) warrantless searches and seizures and improving its information systems. He leaves the reader with the impression that the organization has moved away from many mistakes of the past and has a promising future as the U.S. Government’s primary law enforcement agency.
The book’s Achilles heel is its over-reliance on archival information. Much of it is devoted to the Hoover years, while events after his death seem glossed over. Depictions of evolution of the FBI during the War on Terror seem rushed. The author felt it necessary to tell the Bureau’s full history, but his lack of source material and apparent lack of access in the post-Hoover period is evident. It might have been better to focus on the agency’s first 50 years and save the last half century for another book.
I give this book five (5) stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the FBI, federal law enforcement, and civil liberties.
Enemies: A History of the FBI is now available at:
Rajasthan – India’s ‘Land of Kings’ A Photographic Journey by Mike and Jo Coad
This short but fascinating photo travelogue by the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Jo Coad is one of many they’ve produced. The book is an entertaining, visual look at Rajasthan (literally “Land of Kings”), India’s largest state not far from New Delhi. It offers commentary and stunning photos of Rajasthan’s best tourist destinations, including Jaipur.
I’ve visited many places around the world but have yet to visit Rajasthan. This photographic journey gave me ample taste of what to expect. I suspect that the authors’ other travelogues offer similar adventures off the beaten path. Though short, their travel journal features beautiful color photos and enlightening personal commentary to help would-be visitors prepare for their own trips.
Publishing a short book with material often featured on blogs offers an interesting take on travel writing. While a novel concept, it faces the same challenges that all travelogues do; that is, a lot of travel information and photos are available online for free. It’s a crowded market. The Coad’s book offers some great information for the would-be traveler or armchair tourist, but it does not cover enough new ground to merit a substantial investment. Virtually everything in this travelogue can be found elsewhere for a pittance. Their travelogue may be worth a pretty penny for those planning a trip to one of their featured destinations, want to know what to visit, see, and do there, and/or want to live vicariously through the Coads. Their photography is also worth a look.
This photographic journal – and perhaps all of the Coad’s travelogues – merit four (4) stars for excellent photos and content. This rating is tempered by the reality that free information about places like Rajasthan is readily available online. Their travelogues may be ideal for those planning trips who want to read more personal accounts of their destinations.
Rajasthan – India’s ‘Land of Kings’ is now available at: